Portland State student-led company aims to make homeownership more achievable

Student entrepreneur Jesse Harding (above) and fellow MBA student Jacob Taddy created Couch to make it easier for people to invest in a home either as a group or in a partnership: “Think of it as TurboTax for shared home buying.”
Photo by Patric Simon

Buying a home is the quintessential American Dream. Couch is the evolution of a simple idea to make homeownership more achievable for partners or groups of individuals.

The idea for Couch was developed by MBA students Jesse Harding and Jacob Taddy, evolving from Taddy’s MBA Pioneering Innovation team in 2018. Together, they created Couch, a business that makes it easier for people to invest in a home either as a group or in a partnership.

Here’s how Harding explains Couch: “Couch uses its system of service and educational resources to create a holistic ecosystem that supports buying partners in being more competitive and reducing risk in the venture by helping prepare them for co-owning and management of their property. Think of it as TurboTax for shared home buying.”

Couch was created through the help of PSU’s Cube Program. The Cube is a four-month-long program that helps students turn their prototypes into reality, preparing them for launch by the end of the program. Currently, Couch is in development.

Harding describes Couch’s business this way: “We are focused on improving homeownership access and affordability by making buying and then owning a home with others easier. We take a proactive approach, streamlining the organization, decision making and administrative aspects of buying that is further complicated when you don’t fit within the conventional box of buying with a spouse or as an individual.”

We asked Jesse about his business and experience at PSU.

“Take advantage of the resources that are available to you. They may not always be readily apparent. Always ask.”

JESSE HARDING

How did The Cube program help you?

The Cube provided a dynamic community of innovative thinkers that I could learn from. The ability to share insights and resources made my concept stronger. I also really benefited from the informal accountability that emerged from our group dynamic. Juan, Himalaya, and Xuan [the Cube’s staff] were always there, gently pushing and supporting me along the way.

What is some advice you can offer to other student entrepreneurs?

Take advantage of the resources that are available to you. They may not always be readily apparent. Always ask. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance in whatever form you need it. You’d be surprised how willing faculty and advisors are to support you.

What’s next?

Oh geez! A lot. Of course, we’re looking for funding. We’re still focused on the build-out of our IP (Title Selector, Partnership Agreement Builder, etc.). You can never have too much market validation. So, I’m working on a couple of Study Cases and using lean surveys to that effect.

Harding graduated in June 2020 with an MBA and a graduate certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.

“Moving forward, I’m focused on positions where I can merge storytelling and strategy. That could be public or private so long as the net benefit of the work is that it grows community. Ideally, within the next ten years you’ll see me helping to lead the charge behind a high-impact social innovation/social enterprise,” Harding said.

Visit the Cube webpage to learn more.

— Autumn Barber


This is one a series of profiles about students in the Cube program, a four-month intensive course that is designed to prepare student entrepreneurs for launch and go-to-market for their companies.

Portland State student starts company that makes GMO-free, sustainable sandwich cookies

German Ochoa is one of the founders of Woppa! The company makes GMO-free sandwich cookies, with a focus on sustainability and inclusion.
Photo by Patric Simon

Looking for a sweet treat? Look no further than Woppa! alfajores. Created by four founders, Woppa! is a business that creates GMO-free alfajores sandwich cookies that come in a variety of flavors.

One of the four founders of Woppa! is innovator and student-entrepreneur German Ochoa. Ochoa is a senior at Portland State University majoring in Global Supply Chain Management.

Ochoa’s business model is focused on sustainability and inclusion while sharing delicious alfajores with the world, which are sandwich cookies found in countries like Spain and Argentina. After a year of research and development, Ochoa found that the only way to stand out from the competition was to create a sustainable product “that can genuinely represent and inspire those who follow their dream.”

Woppa! was created with the help of PSU’s Cube Program. The Cube is a four-month-long program that helps students turn their prototypes into reality, preparing them for launch by the end of the program. Currently, Woppa! is in the process of completing its production line and looking to expand to a second facility.

We asked German about his business and experience at PSU.

“The uncertainty can be your best or worst ally, but you gotta trust yourself so things can turn out for the best.”

GERMAN OCHOA

How did The Cube program help you?

The Cube has made great connections for me in the food industry and advising on a few essential steps to execute my next phases, whether it is preparing financial opportunities down the row or ensuring my company’s IP (intellectual property).

What is some advice you can offer to other student entrepreneurs?

The uncertainty can be your best or worst ally, but you gotta trust yourself so things can turn out for the best. That is why you are called an entrepreneur, take the risk because no one will do it for you.

What’s next?

Next is to open a second facility here in Portland to ensure a lean process that would allow me to grow in different regions.

Ochoa anticipates graduating in the fall and plans to finish two of his certificates in Food and Beverage and Social Innovation at PSU. In terms of his business Ochoa said he plans to “expand more in the food industry and find more opportunities where my knowledge can serve others.”

Visit the Cube webpage to learn more, or find out more about Woppa! alfajores.

— Autumn Barber


This is one a series of profiles about students in the Cube program, a four-month intensive course that is designed to prepare student entrepreneurs for launch and go-to-market for their companies.

Learning to be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

by Beth Royston

2020 was taxing for everyone, but I felt like I had a double helping of misfortune. Not only was there the pandemic to contend with, but I had a disastrous trip abroad last year, and have been dealing with the symptoms of PTSD ever since. I already have a lot to worry about — myself staying safe, my friends and family staying safe, trying to keep my motivation up for school during this time. However, recently I’ve had to confront an uncomfortable realization that I simply don’t know how the next few years of my life will look.

I’ve always been a planner, and had certainly made plans for those years. I applied for grad school earlier this year, and have had that intention for a while. However, with the pandemic, I wasn’t able to get some of the extra experience that I wanted in preparation for my graduate program. I applied feeling less secure than I wanted. I’m currently trying to sort out how I feel about the prospect of going to grad school if the program will be online. And what happens if I don’t even get in? I’d find a job and I’m sure I’d adjust, but it’s more about the thought of what I desperately want to happen not happening — the pandemic not ending, and not getting into my dream program. I also got engaged to my partner of five years a month ago, and as sweet as that’s been, the both of us have been worried and uncertain, unable to really begin planning anything solid for our wedding. As it may be evident, I’ve spent a lot of time spiraling. 

Unfortunately, all I can do is wait. I must wait and see if I get into my program, I must wait and see what happens with the pandemic that affects all of us. I even must wait and see how other factors in my life come into play to decide when to get married. It’s a lot of uncomfortable uncertainty, my very weakness. My armor is planning and doing the best I can to make my dreams and plans come true. The best I can do is plan for different scenarios and try to stay flexible.

While 2020 was the hardest year of my life, I’ve also undergone a lot of personal growth. I don’t think I will ever entirely be the type of person that can just sit back and be extremely flexible with change, but I’ve come a long way in realizing that sometimes no matter how much you plan things, they will still go wrong. I had that exact experience with my trip abroad. Everything was planned out to the smallest detail, but fortune was not in my favor regarding a dish I chose to eat at a restaurant that made me very ill and culminated in my hospitalization. I’d planned for some general stomach upset when adjusting to a new cuisine, but nothing to that level. You can either fight that or take a deep breath and adjust. I’ve definitely been grieving for the experiences I feel like I’ve missed out on, and trying to put that energy into what I’m looking forward to later in my life. However, sometimes I fail to be optimistic, and simply feel really sad and worried about how adrift I feel. None of my plans are anchoring me. 

It’s an effort every day to try to coach myself on not adding on additional worries about things that I can’t control. It’s something I struggle with a lot because of my personality, but I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. I’m glad that I’ve been able to adjust in a positive way because of everything that’s happened, and come out a stronger, better, more resilient person, even if I don’t necessarily feel that way all the time. 

Checkmate

By Claire Golden

As we enter Wave 2 of Lockdown, we are also entering a new wave of boredom. Animal Crossings: New Horizons isn’t new and exciting anymore, cooking has grown dull, and the shorter days are making it harder to get outside for exercise. I found myself in need of a new hobby, and discovered it through a Netflix show that lots of people have been binge watching: The Queen’s Gambit.

Perhaps you’re a fan of this Netflix original series too – the story of a young girl who becomes one of the greatest chess players in the world while struggling with substance abuse. It drew me in from the first episode and stuck with me after the end. It also inspired me to start playing chess again. 

Not to sound too cool or anything, but I was part of the homeschool chess club in middle school. So I already knew how to play, as did my roommates, who were also inspired by the show to rediscover chess. I ordered a magnetic chess board for the princely sum of $13 and we all waited eagerly for it to arrive. When it did, we tore open the package, set up the pieces…and I proceeded to be absolutely decimated in my first game.

I’m not particularly good at chess. But it doesn’t matter. I just enjoy the process of planning out my next move, looking for counterattacks, and attempting to protect my own pieces. After learning that the middlegame is my weak point, I read some articles on middlegame theory and won the next game. Then I told my boyfriend what I learned and he won the next one. And so on. It’s fun playing against him and we have chess matches while we’re cooking dinner and waiting for the oven to preheat.

Chess has a surprising benefit for me: While I’m playing, I can’t think about anything else. I have severe anxiety and am pretty much constantly worrying, but there isn’t time for that when you’re trying to plan out your next moves. A game of chess takes us about 30 minutes to an hour, and for that length of time, my mind is occupied. And after the game, I’m mentally tired, which means my brain doesn’t have as much energy to worry. 

I certainly didn’t expect a Netflix show to be so beneficial for me and my roommates, but it has been. COVID-19 might be winning right now, but we just have to tough it out a while longer, and I’m confident that we will come out on top. And for right now? Chess is helping keep my anxiety at bay. Unexpected, but I’ll take it.

A Juggling Act

by Beth Royston

It’s important to have a good work-life balance. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, many people’s lives are crossing over into one another, the lines and boundaries blurring together. For myself and other students, it’s a constant struggle to stay on top of everything and maintain those boundaries. I work remotely right now, so many parts of my day take place in the same room. I work at my desk, log onto my classes at my desk and relax at my desk. It can also be a struggle to define your day with online classes. Since you can do the work at any time of day, everything bleeds into each other.

However, I’ve had some success keeping my day defined with Google Calendar. I used to rely on a physical planner because I liked having something to hold and write in, but I have permanently switched over to an online one! You can’t beat how portable an online calendar is, as well as mess-free to edit. My favorite feature is definitely the ability to have your task list right next to you when using Google Calendar on the computer. I also appreciate that you can create different calendars for different aspects of your life (and color-code them). For instance, I have a work calendar, a homework calendar and a personal calendar. I can toggle my homework calendar on and off to see due dates for assignments and remove it if it’s causing too much clutter. It’s also helped me to schedule my day, if I know I have a bunch of things to get done but no particular time to do it. This has helped me feel like there’s some semblance of normal during this time, and I’d absolutely recommend it for anyone wanting to get organized. You can also use Google Calendar on your phone if you need to check things on the go. 

It’s also helped me to make some clearer boundaries for my work-life balance. Obviously, it will never be back to normal until I’m commuting again, but I’ve tried to create boundaries where I can. If I’m done with work and classes for the day, I try not to allow myself to drift into homework mode when I have some time to myself. Focusing on homework during a specific time helps me stay productive. Obviously, something different works for everyone, and doing homework here and there throughout the day might work better for you. However you’re getting through trying to live a normal life when things are decidedly not-normal, I wish you the best.

An Aspirational Autumn

by Beth Royston

I may have a slight problem with how much I enjoy autumn. It’s my favorite season of the year, and I always gripe that it never feels like it lasts as long as I want it to — whereas seasons like summer, that I’m not a fan of, seem to go on forever. A large part of my autumn (and winter) enjoyment comes from an upbringing in sunny, desert California. The kind of fall color (and snow) that we get up here is not something I’m used to. I’ve been in Portland for four years now, but it still takes my breath away every time. One of my favorite things about living in the Pacific NW is that we have four distinct seasons, and I really enjoy doing activities I can only do in that season. It helps me enjoy the seasons I’m kind of iffy on. But if you’re new in Portland, or been here for a while but never soaked up the autumn joy like a sponge, I’ve got some recommendations and tips to how I try to spend those precious months.

The stunning colors of fall life at a restaurant near my house!

Visit a pumpkin patch!

Portland has a lot of pumpkin patches. You’ll definitely have your pick. My partner and I usually visit Sauvie Island, as one of the patches there really has it all — a barn with animals, hay rides, a corn maze, a little market, a gift shop, hot food and drink, and of course the pumpkins. We always find their pumpkin prices reasonable, and there are always delicious things to pick up at the market.

Carve your pumpkin!

Although Halloween this year was a little quiet, my partner and I had fun carving our pumpkins and setting them out on the porch. Roasting the pumpkin seeds creates a wonderful snack!

Enjoy seasonal food!

Hot tip: one of my favorite snack spots, Waffle Window, has seasonal apple pie waffles and pumpkin pie waffles that are to die for.

View the gorgeous fall colors before they’re gone!

My favorite thing to do, hands down, is simply take in the changing colors around me. I’m lucky to live right across the street from a gorgeous park, and my street has a lot of trees that change color. This year, my partner and I had a picnic in the fall leaves, and it was truly wonderful. I always make sure to take a lot of pictures! I would recommend visiting some famous spots, like Multnomah Falls or the Japanese Garden, in autumn. We didn’t go this year, but the sights are spectacular with a shift in the color spectrum. Insider tip: the best time to see the leaves, in my opinion, is the last week of October or first week of November.

Pictures from a very pretty hike!
The vivid colors never cease to amaze!

However you spend your autumn, I encourage you to take advantage of the stunning Oregon colors. Throwing myself into special seasonal activities really helps me enjoy the little things in life and get as much as I can out of the year. Are there any favorite fall activities of yours that I missed?

Staying Connected

by Beth Royston

Ordinarily, to catch up with a friend, I’d go get lunch or see them at one of our regular joint-activities. However, go-to plans have been obviously suspended with the pandemic, and I’ve had to find new ways to stay connected with friends both near and far. An unexpected silver lining of the pandemic for me was deepening friendships with friends far away, ones I’d met online originally or had moved apart from. I’ve included some activities we’ve done regularly to stay in touch here for your consideration:

Jackbox Games! If you aren’t familiar with Jackbox games, they’re party packs of games meant to be played with your phones. The easiest way to play with friends is one person sharing their screen and everyone logging into the room via phone (this can be accomplished easily through Discord, if you use it. It’s always hilarious and there’s many games to choose from! You can buy the entire pack or singular games. 

Buzzfeed Quiz Party! Buzzfeed recently added a way you can take their infamous quizzes with friends at the same time. It’s simple — one person starts a room and sends the link to their friends, and the quiz will show you yours and your friends’ results at the same time. It was really late at night and we had a desire to know what Teletubby character we were … you know how it goes.

Skribbl.io! I play this all the time with my pals. People take turns doodling something and others try to guess what it is they are drawing!

Presentation Parties! Everyone assembles a Powerpoint presentation on something they weirdly know a lot about, or are really passionate about, and takes turns presenting to the group. It’s an oddly wholesome way to get to know your friends’ specific interests.

Watching stuff together! There are several websites and browser extensions that will let you make a private room and stream something for everyone to watch together. We usually use Kosmi.io or the extension Netflix Party!

However it is you stay in touch, we live in the perfect day and age to find fun things to do online with your friends. What’s your favorite way to get together virtually?

Being Under the National Spotlight

by Beth Royston

I can depend on them, those text messages, every time Portland is in the news. Of course, they are from friends and family outside the city who care about me and are concerned for my well being. But I think it isn’t often realized by people that live outside of the Portland area that life here is not really like it’s portrayed on the news — and we’ve had a lot of coverage lately. 

Recently, with the federal occupation of Portland, it felt like we were under a giant microscope. I was getting a lot of calls at my student position in the Admissions office from concerned parents and wary students about how really safe it was to be here. To be honest, sometimes things happen in Portland and I have no idea until someone texts me about it, and I think I do a decent job of checking the news! Of course, I can understand why people are frightened. Coming from an entirely suburban area while growing up, moving to a city with inner-city challenges was a culture shock for me. Something I think that is important for incoming students to know is that the Park Blocks, the big green space running through the middle of campus, is actually city property. That’s why there are wonderful things, like the farmer’s market that happens there every Saturday. But that also means that protests can gather there that aren’t PSU-related. It can be a lot to get used to, but I am happy to live somewhere where people are truly passionate about standing up for things they believe in. I still remember the shocked expression on my partner’s face when I brought him to his first loud, marching, flag-waving protest (he’s from a suburban neighborhood in Ohio).

It can be nerve-wracking to receive all of these queries, almost as if it’s forcing me to look inward when someone asks if I’ve been affected by any of the protesting, or the wildfires, or this, or that. Being under the national spotlight is tough. I can only ever give my own opinion, which is that I do feel safe at Portland State and in Portland. 

Crafting in Quarantine: “Quaranzines”

By Erika Nelson

Whether in mandatory or self-imposed isolation, people are turning to hobbies like arts and crafts to keep themselves occupied.  One fun project having a moment on social media is zine-making: The hashtag #quaranzine has over 5,000 hits on Instagram.

Merriam-Webster defines a zine as “a noncommercial often homemade or online publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter.” There is no right or wrong way to make a zine — it can be handmade or digital; thrown together or carefully planned. Zines can be anything you want — a mini-book of self-published poetry, a political manifesto, your own comic book…the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and materials available. 

I made two different zines using this paper-folding tutorial. One is called This is Your Life Now, and I used acrylic paint and magazine clippings to create a tongue-in-cheek manual for embracing the new normal. 

I included a spread featuring things I do in quarantine, such as sleep, play games… 

…and fantasize about being productive. 

My second zine was a parody of Time magazine: The cover features an image of more innocent times — a crowded beach — and the headline, “There will be no summer (and probably no autumn).” 

Of  course, I had to include fake advertisements. 

I encourage everyone to try making their own quaranzines! Arts and crafts do more than just fill free hours — they can be therapeutic during scary and uncertain times, and sharing your art on social media can help foster community in a time of isolation. So grab some art supplies, fire up the publishing software, or simply use a paper and pen — let’s do some quarantine crafting!

Summer Woes

by Beth Royston

While I am eagerly awaiting finals to be finished, I’m not exactly looking forward to summertime either. I’m a student that chooses to take a break over the summer and not take any classes, and work to save up as much as I can for expenses throughout the year. I usually approach summer with mixed feelings. I enjoy the break from classes, but I also miss them! However, I think this year will be different, and not in a good way.

I really despised the summers during high school — it’s an easy recipe for my depression to fester, sitting at home with not much of a structure and things to do. Now, my life is a lot busier, with a side business to run, a garden to take care of, novel chapters to write. However, there’s a looming possibility I won’t be able to go anywhere or see friends often — something else that echoes high school — and I’m worried about my mental health. While I’m happy to have a break from classes, as all-online learning has not agreed with me, I’m worried about the lack of deadlines. 

I appreciate that PSU has been asking for student input on what fall term will look like. I’m really hoping that classes are ideally split between online and in-person, which is the type of schedule I prefer anyway. If things are due to be all online again, I think I’m going to have to avoid taking the full course load I usually do, as I’m not confident my grades will be able to stick with another entirely online term. Thankfully, I have some leeway in my graduation plan where I can take less classes now and more later. 

A lot of friends and family I’ve been talking to have also been struggling with their mental health during this time, and worrying about their future when they are forced to perform as usual during these incredibly stressful circumstances. I’m also a planner, so I like looking forward to the future. However, when times are uncertain, it’s not easy to plan for things five months from now, because it’s impossible to tell if they’ll be open. I appreciate the opportunity to still be able to take classes and work on my degree during this time, but I feel my resolve and determination slowly slipping through my fingers.